How mid-century television anthologies reflected and shaped US values and identities.
From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, anthology dramas presented “quality” television programming in weekly stand-alone television plays meant to entertain and provide cultural uplift to American society. Programs such as Playhouse 90, Studio One, and The Twilight Zone became important emblems of American creative potential on television. But their propensity for addressing matters of major social concern also meant that they often courted controversy. Although the anthology’s tenure would be brief, its importance in the television landscape would be great, and the ways the format negotiated ideas about “Americanness” at midcentury would be a crucial facet of its significance.
In Gold Dust on the Air, Molly Schneider traces a cultural history of the “Golden Age” anthology, addressing topics such as the format’s association with Method acting and debates about “authentic” American experience, its engagement with ideas about “conformity” in the context of Cold War pressures, and its depictions of war in a medium sponsored by defense contractors. Drawing on archival research, deep textual examination, and scholarship on both television history and broader American culture, Schneider posits the anthology series as a site of struggle over national meaning.
Molly Schneider breathes new life into the study of mid-century anthology dramas, arguing convincingly for their reexamination through the lens of the nation. Her rigorous archival work and astute analysis of shifting national and industry dynamics spotlights the labor of television anthology writers and leaves us with a richer understanding of this period and its creative experimentation.
~Deborah L. Jaramillo, author of The Television Code: Regulating the Screen to Safeguard the Industry
Schneider presents a thoughtful and detailed cultural critique of significant mid-century live television anthology dramas, especially those scripted by prominent writers. In Gold Dust on the Air, Schneider provides an in-depth analysis of the creators, their narrative strategies, and the critical reception of key dramas, situating them within wider discourses in American culture.
~Cynthia B. Meyers, author of A Word from Our Sponsor: Admen, Advertising, and the Golden Age of Radio
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Gold Dust in/on the Air
1. Television’s Tortured Misfits: Method Acting and the “Slice-of-Life” Anthology
2. Mythologies of Belonging: Conformity and Neighbor Panic
3. A Tired Nonconformist: Censorship and Citizen Serling
4. A Residue of Ugliness: Traumas and Fantasies of War
5. A Last Gasp: Conclusions
Epilogue: Anthologies and the Archive
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